A Letter in Support of Water Security & a Lesson in Interconnectedness

A few months ago on my way to the Food Tank conference in Chicago, I flew over the Missouri River and got an overhead view of a site that had been showing up on my social media feed (and maybe yours too) for the past several months. What I saw in real-time was a lesson in interconnectedness. After all, there wasn’t much conventional news covering water security at the Standing Rock controversy so one must search this news out on your own, or be bombarded with it on social media.

On my seat’s video monitor showed a long river snaking through several states. I wondered if this river was connected to the social media posts as seen in clashes over the pipeline and the water protectors? Who hasn’t searched out the ancient prophesy about the black snake? Now, it was underneath my airplane and while still miles away it was closer to my reality than through my cell phone screen back in Hawaii.

As I flew over the storied area, I understood the Dakota Access Pipeline will snake through the headwaters of the Missouri River. According to Huffington Post, this pipeline will stretch across Lake Oahe, go 1,172 miles to Illinios and stretch across a life-giving source of fresh water for millions of people who live downstream. Looking at the map, then looking out my window, there are numerous rivers that could potentially be at risk for an oil spill. The water protectors look like they have a good reason to protect the sacred lands and drinking water at the head of river-for the sake of those at the end. Water security should be a priority for everyone, not just the native American Indian’s problem. 



“These pipelines are often seeping or leaking in small places, and we don’t have any way to detect them,” Doug Hayes, a staff attorney at the Sierra Club, told The Huffington Post in September. “These are the types of concerns the tribes have, and they’re, frankly, very well-founded.”

The state’s capital had these exact concerns so the pipeline’s original route, planned to pass near Bismarck, (its capital) was abandoned. 

To anyone doubting the protesters' claims that oil pipelines will threaten their water supplies, the Gold King Mine incident at the Animas River, heavily contaminated Native American waters and food sources. 

That's just the thing about marches, issues and controversies---aren't they most often objectified as "other people's issues" and "it doesn't apply to me?"

The farther I traveled from Hawaii, the more I saw connections between myself, the people I met and places I visited. This is the beauty of travel.

What stuck out in my mind was the water security issue with the pipeline at Standing Rock is located in an area with the most poverty and is getting national attention. Where in our island community are we having some of the same issues? Are “they” like “us” in any way?

“Their” issues may be closer to home than we realize.

The same day that the water protectors are defending Standing Rock, there was a bill introduced to Hawaii’s legislature about our island’s own water security. Did you know?

The glaring difference to me is while Oahu’s primary drinking water aquifer at Red Hill, (at grave risk for contamination) ironically, is feeding the most affluent residents, luxury hotels and tourists and is going virtually unnoticed.


Photo: Sierra Club Hawaii

According to Sierra Club of Hawaii, Oahu’s drinking water aquifer at Red Hill is just 100 feet below 187 million gallons of fuel stored. There has been multiple spills (the last one was in January 2014) and chemicals detected in the groundwater that continue to threaten public health and water security.

Why are we so removed from important parts of life such as water, air and soil? Is water viewed as a commodity that “somebody else” is responsible for in all their good conscious to protect the citizen’s best interest? Where are our “water protectors” with signs, campouts and social media? Are the affluent at more risk for being bamboozled because some of them are more apt to having their assets managed for them? Is water, food and health considered an asset?


Someday it will be your land they come for. The place you cherish most and have worked hard to protect. That will be the day you’ll hope that people will stand with you and raise their voice with yours.

-Chris Burkhart

In the differences there are similarities.

For example, North Dakota is one of the driest states in the United States. Water cannot be taken for granted. On the opposite spectrum, Kauai is one of the wettest spots on earth. Water still isn’t being taken for granted.

In both areas there are water protectors- they are the farmers (the taro farmers, the fish pond keepers) and native people who value water as wealth. For the native American Indians, water is life. For the native Hawaiians, Wai Wai means wealth and wai is water.

The connection is very clear.

This letter I write to my community but also as a to-do list for myself so we can collectively look at our responsibility for:

  • Where is there an unbalanced support of big business over the safety of our people?
  • Where can I reduce use of petroleum and fossil fuels?
  • What alternative fuels and storage containers can be utilized? What about Hemp plastics and methane fuel?
  • What alternative uses of energy are there?

Keep engaged:





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